Tory Johnny Mercer might face jail for withholding data from inquiry

Ex-Tory minister Johnny Mercer could face prison after a bid to withhold information from the Afghanistan inquiry was denied.

Mr Mercer, who lost his former seat of Plymouth Moor View in the General Election, has refused to name friends he says witnessed alleged murders committed by UK Special Forces in Afghanistan to the independent inquiry. Sir Charles Haddon-Cave’s ruling on Thursday quoted from the British Army’s values and standards by saying: “Integrity requires moral courage to do what is right, even when it may not be popular.”

Mr Mercer repeatedly refused to hand over names of “multiple officers” who told him about allegations of murder and a cover-up during his time as a backbench MP while giving evidence to the probe in February. Giving his reason for not disclosing the names during his evidence in February, Mr Mercer told counsel to the inquiry Oliver Glasgow KC: “The one thing you can hold on to is your integrity and I will be doing that with these individuals.”

In a previous order compelling the ex-Conservative MP for Plymouth to hand over the names, the inquiry chairman said the consequences of failing to comply without reasonable excuse would be “a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment and/or a fine.” Mr Mercer then submitted an application to the probe on April 3, in which he argued he was either unable to comply with the order, or it was not reasonable for him to comply with it.

He later accused the inquiry of “ignoring pretty serious evidence” in order to “fixate” on pressuring him to hand over the names.

In his ruling on Thursday, Sir Charles said: “The Applicant submits that he is a protector of whistleblowers. He chose publicly, however, to disclose that friends told him about allegations of unlawful killings by (special forces) in Afghanistan.

“He has since refused to disclose the names to assist the Inquiry, even though: the Inquiry was set up for the very purpose of looking into these allegations; he says that that his friends were merely witnesses; he could pass on their names to the inquiry privately and in strict confidence; he accepts that the inquiry protects the identities of confidential contacts; and they have protection from risk of prosecution for breach of the Official Secrets Act or failure to report misconduct.”

An Inquiry spokeswoman said: “Mr Mercer is refusing to disclose information which may be important to a public inquiry which is seeking to establish the truth about grave allegations of multiple murder involving UK Special Forces.

“Mr Mercer accepts the Inquiry has secure measures in place to protect the names and identities of his sources and that witnesses coming forward to the Inquiry have protection from risk of prosecution for breaches of the Official Secrets Act or for failure to report misconduct. The chair has given Mr Mercer a further two weeks to comply with the section 21 Notice.

“The chair’s concluding observations were that ‘Integrity requires moral courage to do what is right, even when it may not be popular’.”

Mr Mercer now has until July 25 to hand over the names to the inquiry.